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Can I Understand Ernest Hemingway?

The pictures with my profs are slow coming because my mom took them, and she still uses a film camera!

The award certificate I got for the Folendorf Award reads that the English department "recognizes her achievement of excellence in writing and love of literature." And I really like that. I'm glad I go to a university that can recognize someone's love of literature. Because I love literature. I love what it can do. I'm a sap.

I like the way it can change perceptions -- like Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I never felt anything about Hemingway's writing, really, until I read about his struggles and fears and elations as a young writer. So I decided to post part of my comprehensive exam. The part about Hemingway and A Moveable Feast.

Can I understand Ernest Hemingway? is a question I have had to consciously address. I did a project on Hemingway in 11th grade that required a fictional interview, and in it my imaginary Hemingway is the Hemingway of popular imagination: terse and manly and preparing for a big-game hunt. Hemingway himself could not have been unaware of this, the differencebetween the "I" he knew himself to be, and the persona of Ernest Hemingway, who appears in crude form in my 11th grade project. And as if in reply, his memoir A Moveable Feast, shows us someone different. In these essays of his apprenticeship in Paris, Hemingway takes great care with the character he constructs with his first-person narrative, revealing his personality through his interaction with other writers, such as Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There is an earnest hopefulness about this Hemingway. "I was young and not gloomy and there were always strange and comic things that happened in the worst time," he writes. The Ernest Hemingway of A Moveable Feast is the Hemingway who lived in the Paris of "the early days, when we were very poor and very happy" (211).

This Hemingway loves his wife Hadley and hates that he was unfaithful to her, enjoys going to bicycle races and walks on his own to the Musée du Luxembourg "nearly everyday for the Cézannes and to see the Manets and Monets" (13). He reminds you that at one time he was the Hemingway who had not yet written The Snows of Kilimanjaro or "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" but instead "The Cat in the Rain" and "A Clean, Well Lighted Place." In a way, A Moveable Feast is an answer to that later Hemingway, a revival his former self as a young writer, not yet a personality, not yet a sort of legend or icon (an abstraction, like Truth, which stripped him of his details). In the Preface, he writes, "If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book may throw some light on what has been written as fact."

What had been written "as fact" about Hemingway when he wrote the preface to A Moveable Feast, near the end of his life, forty years after the events he depicted? I think of the hard drinker Simone de Beauvoir wrote of, surrounded by empty and emptying bottles of scotch in a room at the Ritz, after the 1944 liberation of Paris, proclaiming Jean Paul Sartre a general, sick with the flu but "bursting with vitality." The love Hemingway expresses for Paris in A Moveable Feast sheds light indeed on what is reported as fact about Hemingway after the liberation of Paris. He claimed to have been part of the city's liberation, to which historians have wryly replied that the only thing he liberated was the bar at the Ritz. But Hemingway's claim can be understood when one reads the closing of A Moveable Feast: "There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it" (211). The machismo bluster becomes an embellished truth born out of deep and abiding love. Hemingway may not have literally helped to liberate Paris, but he wished he did, and we understand why, and can almost believe that he did.

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